FAO Regional Office for Africa

Destocking operation provides drought-stricken pastoralists with much-needed food and income in Somali Region of Ethiopia

By buying already weak animals, FAO created markets where they had collapsed - improving the financial stability of affected pastoralists. Photo: © FAO/Ethiopia

15 March 2016: In Somali Region of southeastern Ethiopia, the ongoing drought – the most severe in half a century due to the effects of El Niño – has caused critical feed and water shortages, resulting in abnormal migrations and widespread livestock deaths. Most of the region’s population is dependent on animals as a source of both food and income, but as the lean season continues, these households are experiencing a rapid deterioration in food security and increased risk of malnutrition.

Driven by feed and water scarcity, pastoralists travel for days in search of pasture for their animals. For livestock herders like Mahmud Omer from Bisle, the drought has almost decimated their livelihood. “I sent my best animals, the ones that could make the trek, with some herders heading to Somaliland, where we heard there was rain,” he said. “The trip took 19 days, and they found no pasture. The animals were so weak from the long walk that they couldn’t turn back. I was told today that most of them have died.”

In the worst-affected areas of Somali Region, households dependent on their animals – mainly sheep, goats, cattle and camels – have seen most, or all, of their herd perish as a result of insufficient feed and water. Many have reported death tolls in the range of one to two hundred heads. With weakened body conditions, increasing numbers of livestock are dying of once-easily cured ailments.

The movement of entire households is now becoming increasingly common. Having lost their main source of income, thousands of pastoralists have settled close to villages in makeshift camps, housing themselves and what few animals remain in low shelters made of sticks, mats and repurposed tarp. Increasing concentrations of people and livestock are straining extremely limited and already degraded natural resources. Three years of successive rainfall failure in Siti Zone of Somali Region has reduced access to and availability of fodder and water. Overwhelmed by rising needs, government and humanitarian organizations have been unable to sufficiently respond.

Alarmingly, several families across the region reported sharing their food aid with their livestock in an effort to help them survive. “I put all my hope in these animals,” Mahmud says. “I’m desperate to save them. Livestock is all I know.”

To safeguard the livelihoods of pastoralists affected by the drought and provide time-critical support to the most in need, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)  has implemented an intervention in nine communities of three worst-affected districts of Siti Zone – Erer, Hadagala and Shinile – in collaboration with the regional Livestock and Pastoralist Development Bureau (LPDB).

By offering fair prices for the local purchase of already weak sheep and goats, FAO created markets where they had collapsed. “Even if we could sell the animals as they are, there is no functioning market here and the animals are too weak to travel to the bigger towns,” Mahmud added. “FAO brought the market to our doorstep.”

With one less mouth to feed, the pastoralists are able to focus limited resources on their remaining livestock. This will enhance their animals’ chances of survival through to the next rainy season, when pastures and water points are expected to replenish. Several livestock sellers reported they would invest the cash received in the purchase of productive assets, for example animal feed or donkeys, which are critical for transporting water across long distances and reduce the burden on women to carry out this task.

To respond to increasing food insecurity and malnutrition risk, FAO and the LPDB provided the purchased animals for immediate local slaughter to distribute meat to families in the community who had been displaced by the drought and had lost all of their livestock. The intervention was subsequently able to provide highly nutritious food at a time when families needed it most — especially single mothers with multiple children under the age of five, and elderly or disabled family members.

Halima Hassan, a mother of six from Aydora had been eating one meal a day of mostly dry grain. “We used to mix the food aid with milk, but my animals stopped producing months ago,” she said. Owing to the sociocultural and financial importance of livestock, meat is rare and eaten only on special occasions. With support from FAO, vulnerable households like Halima’s now have access to animal protein for the first time in months – as communities will benefit from two rounds of purchase, these families will receive meat twice. Some will be eaten immediately, while the rest will be processed for storing and consumption in the coming months. Some families stated they would use the hides to make containers for water storage, which keep liquids cool – especially important as temperatures regularly exceed 40 degrees Celsius.

FAO and the LPDB ensured the overall quality of the intervention through multiple measures. Prices for livestock were set with local government officials to ensure that families were not encouraged to destock based on cash incentives. Further, to safeguard the eventual regeneration of herds, core breeding stock were not selected for purchase. Prior to both slaughter and meat distribution, all sheep and goats were inspected by an animal health expert and meat inspectors. Purchased animals with signs of disease or severe emaciation were condemned as unfit for human consumption for immediate disposal.

In nine pastoral communities worst-affected by the ongoing drought, FAO aims to enhance the financial stability of 2 200 households and nutritional intake of 4 500 households through the purchase of livestock and provision of protein-rich meat.

Still, more needs to be done to address the challenges facing livestock-dependent households throughout the country. FAO country representative, Amadou Allahoury Diallo said FAO is one of only two organizations implementing slaughter destocking in the country. “We urgently need to scale up our response to protect the livelihoods of livestock-dependent households – with the provision of feed as a top priority to save remaining animals.”

As part of its El Niño Response Plan, FAO in Ethiopia is appealing for USD 50 million, of which USD 3 million is urgently needed to reach vulnerable households with emergency livestock feed support. An additional USD 7 million is required for voucher-based supplementary feed provision, community-level fodder production support and restocking households with small ruminants.